If there is one thing I’ve regretted in my musical obsessions, it was seeing Marshall Crenshaw play an acoustic set at Ashland Coffee & Tea & not totally getting it. My husband & I went with another couple & the three of them talked about how awesome the show was going to be. Mr. Crenshaw came on, played his songs & I sat there thinking, “He is pretty good but is there something I’m missing?” A few days later, my husband gave me Crenshaw’s This Is Easy, his greatest hits. Suddenly, those skeletons of melody were fleshed out with drums, backing vocals, electric guitars. It was brilliant & clearly I had missed the bus to Awesometown.
Flash forward to last night at the Birchmere, where Marshall Crenshaw celebrated the 30th anniversary of his first record (but not his first album) by playing his hits, backed by the Bottle Rockets. It was the redemptive experience I’d been waiting for.
The set opened with a slowed down version of “There She Goes Again,” like a band at a prom, with all the maturity & wistfulness of adulthood. (It’s a weird metaphor, I know, but that’s the best I can describe it.) It was all uphill from there with “Cynical Girl,” “Live and Learn,” & “Calling Out For Love (At Crying Time).”
The liner notes for This Is Easy describe Crenshaw’s songs as “insanely catchy pop tunes that effortlessly encapsulate the best things about rock ‘n’ roll.” While the wording might sound a little retro, the sentiment is true. The lyrics not only get into your head, but the music has heart & substance. One of the songs, “Television Light,” was written for a forgotten movie but it’s a tune that’s ready to haunt your latest break-up soundtrack.
Crenshaw played two Buddy Holly covers as a nod to his pop past. But one of the highlights was near the end of the set. The band played a kick-ass version of “Something’s Gonna Happen” & ended at the same moment, hard & clean. We, the audience, started hollering. A beat of silence. Another. Then the opening riff to “Someday Someway” started & you couldn’t help but make some serious noise. It was a giddy, powerful feeling where the music seemed to make everything right, that same feeling that so many writers have tried to capture in words.
As amazing as the night was, there were two small things that bothered me. First, I love the intimacy of club shows & the Birchmere is a pretty great place to see music. But the crowds there are not the most energetic, mainly because of the people who come to that venue. I have rarely been to a show there that was not made up of middle-aged urbanites or older white-collar nearly-retirees. Many of them sat in their chairs like lumps; I wanted to shake them & say, “You’re at a rock show! Dance!”
Secondly, the attraction of smaller venues is that the artists usually come out afterward & spend some time with the crowd. Unfortunately, this show proved to be the exception. There were a small crowd of us waiting to see if Marshall would come out, but the odds were slim. He had brought no merch to the show & there was no meet-and-greet table set up. My husband & I waited outside near the dressing room door.
But the longer we waited, the more I felt foolish. Something felt different about this than when we waited to meet Billy Bragg or Enter the Haggis. There really hadn’t been any banter with the audience during the performance or outside acknowledgment other than the many thank-yous & the encore. Mr. Crenshaw had gotten up there & given us a hell of a show & left us with glimpses of pop perfection. And honestly, I don’t know that I really wanted anything more. I had gotten a chance to re-experience what I had missed out on years before & to make my vocal chords hurt from screaming in happiness. For now, the passing moment was better.